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Top Ads of 2021

This year brought a blend of optimism and uncertainty, from the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines followed by new pandemic variants and rising infection rates. The world opened up again—and the metaverse emerged. Nostalgia programming romanticized our seemingly less troubled past, while the election of our country’s first woman Vice President shone light on a new future. For its part, the advertising industry kept pace with this frenetic shift in events, delivering campaigns that ranged from heartfelt to hilarious. To wrap up 2021, we take a look at some top spots that grabbed attention over the last 12 months.

Noshes and Sips
Until recently, McDonald’s didn’t offer home delivery to customers in the United Kingdom. The pandemic changed that, as restaurants closed and the fast food giant was forced to pivot quickly to retain its client base. By partnering with Leo Burnett London at the start of 2021, McDonald’s created a trio of outdoor ads that displayed only a sliver of the iconic M letter arcing like a rainbow over houses, with the words “We Deliver” at the bottom of each image. No additional branding was needed to convey the fact that Big Macs could now be dropped at quarantined patrons’ doors.

Across the Channel, Le Chocolat des Francais tapped into the wanderlust felt by many homebound would-be travelers to create a series of detailed print ads displaying both the idealized beauty and true grit of life in France. In one exquisitely drawn scene, a couple kisses on the banks of the Seine—oblivious to the pigeons, rat and drunk man around them. In another candy image, people argue and shout in traffic-jammed cars while in the center a cheerful family drives to their beach vacances. “Only keep the best of France” urges the tongue-in-cheek tagline.

Cause and Effect
As outdoor advertising resumed this summer, Adidas partnered with Havas Middle East agency to promote their new conservative bathing suit collection. Women were invited to swim inside the world’s “first-ever liquid billboard”—aka, a mini pool 16 feet high and 10 feet deep that was built of reinforced acrylic at one of Dubai’s most popular beaches. Participants including Saudi Arabian climber Raha Moharrak and amputee triathlete Dareen Barbar took dips, while footage of them doing laps inside what looked exactly like a moving billboard was livestreamed to the Adidas flagship store in the Dubai Mall. “Our belief is that nobody should be prevented from enjoying the benefits of being in and around the water, hence the recent launch of our diversified product offering for all women and our Burkini Collection,” said Amrith Gopinath, Adidas senior brand director at Adidas.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Brazil embarked on the important task of encouraging young people to get vaccinated by enlisting the help of a popular video game. As part of a special mission in Grand Theft Auto Role Play, users could stop to have their avatar get a shot at one of several virtual vaccination centers. The campaign called on the support of Brazil’s top gaming influencers and Twitch streamers, while participants posted photos on Instagram and Twitter. “#InGameVaccine communicates directly with Generation Z, encouraging them to reinforce their immunization,” said Félix Del Valle, chief creative officer at Ogilvy Brazil.

Products and Places
Axe body spray likewise tapped into Gen Z’s collective buying power by speaking to their belief in gender fluidity. According to a study from Pew Research, conducted last May, 35 percent of Gen Zers know someone who uses they/them pronouns, compared to only 25 percent of millennials and 16 percent of Gen Xers. In a 60-second spot called “The New Axe Effect,” a Black man spritzes on the product and becomes instantly appealing to different people—including an older Asian woman, a burly male window washer and a woman in a billboard who can’t help but spring to life. “We’re a brand that listens and grows alongside our Gen Z guy, and this group has helped to shape the evolution of masculinity over the last few years for the better,” said Axe brand director, Mark Lodwick. “Our brand has progressed with the times and takes pride in representing a more inclusive world with ‘The New Axe Effect’ campaign.”

Rounding out the end-of-year ad offerings was a tourism campaign that garnered over six million views in a week sans any media spend. The effort came from Inspired by Iceland, a marketing platform for Icelandic tourism, and includes a video in which the country’s “chief visionary officer” Zack Mossbergsson (played by actor Jörundur Ragnarsson) spoofs Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. After Zuckerberg invited the world to join him in the Metaverse, Mossbergsson encouraged travelers to explore Icelandverse, a real place where one can experience waterfalls, hot springs and naturally erupting geysers—all without wearing a VR headset. The parody was so well-received that even Zuckerberg appreciated the joke, posting a Facebook response that read, “Amazing. I need to make a trip to the Icelandverse soon.” Here’s to a happy 2022, complete with exciting new ads to come!